Tale as Old as Time

The supposed finale episode of the Jan. 6th hearings happened this week and they happened to coincide with the death of theatre-film-TV icon Angela Lansbury.

Timing aside, you may be asking:

Chair, how do these two events have anything in common?

Because as far as we can tell, death is final and a TV series, even a real-life, limited one, never truly ends.

Well, let me explain.

Go on…

It is true that no TV show, be it a limited series, news program or super indie non-network offering that was once viewed somewhere via some barely gettable online platform, is EVER safe from resurrection, rebooting or, well, theft.

And that not even Elon Musk, the richest human on the planet, (Note: Okay, the italicized may be questionable), who was last heard to be confabbing with Russian President and fellow Bond villain Vladimir Putin, has figured out a way to truly cheat death.

Despite all evidences to the contrary.

Central casting couldn’t have done this good #idiot

Yet each – the TV show finale and the Death – reminded me of what we now refer to as 21st century tribalism, AKA a term that most appropriately describes the world as we now experience it, at its best AND its worst.

Definition, please —-

   Tribalism is the state of being organized by, or advocating for, tribes or tribal lifestyles. Human evolution has primarily occurred in small hunter-gatherer groups, as opposed to larger and more recently settled civilizations.  So in a political context, tribalism can mean discriminatory behavior or attitudes towards out-groups, based on in-group loyalty.

Let’s start with Angela Lansbury, since speaking of her is much more pleasant.

Hey girl

There are few in any group who have not been positively touched by her talents.  One of the most accomplished performers in the entertainment business over a seven-decade career, Dame Angela momentarily made many tens of millions of people better with such iconic performances as Jessica Fletcher on the long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote; Broadway’s original Mame, in the Tony-award winning self-titled lead role; and in three indelible, Oscar-nominated roles, most notably as the forever evilest mother of them all in the 1962 classic suspense drama, The Manchurian Candidate.

But the part that probably brought her the most and broadest attention, especially from young people, was her voicing (and singing) of Mrs. Potts in Disney’s perennial animated classic, Beauty and the Beast.

Who doesn’t love Mrs. Potts?

It is not an exaggeration to write, as I have before, that seeing Ms. Lansbury make her entrance down a spiral staircase as Mame on the set of her rambling Beekman Place penthouse to a roomful of Manhattan sophisticates back in the mid-sixties, is what made me first want to be in show business as a little boy.

Yes, Mame

Up until then I felt that I didn’t fit in anywhere and all the sassy retorts and sparkly glamour I was suppressing on the inside (Note: barely) were destined to eat me alive unless they and me finally got out.

But once I saw her version of Auntie Mame emerge in her glittery gold pantsuit and take her nephew (who was about my age at the time) by the hand and introduce him to her world of….brilliance… I knew I had found my tribe.

My people

I didn’t know how I could get to them or when I would but I knew it was where I belonged.  In a place where I could talk uncensored about the theatre, politics, or pretty much anything else happening in society while simultaneously being stylishly dressed and slightly (ahem) snide.

If it wasn’t always the loftiest of goals it at least gave me a framework I could modify to my personal style.  And, as the years moved on I would become, well hopefully, a bit wiser and more truly sophisticated myself.

I would learn that what I at the time mistook for being city-sophisticated meant merely being smart, educated and open to all opinions on the issues of the day without losing your sense of humor.

… and a little gay too

As for being snide and stylish — okay, that hasn’t changed, much.  Or at all.  Some things are just baked into your cake.

So yeah, Dame Angela gave this 10 year old A LOT.  So much more than a reality TV performer turned the unlikely POTUS (#45) and most powerful human on the planet, has done for his followers.

Watching the compilation of interviews and clips of January 6, 2021, how is one not grabbed by the mob mentality and violence against law enforcement and sacred government landmarks like the Capitol Building, not to mention the salivating mouths of armed followers threatening personal harm against elected representatives from all FIFTY states they were forcing to hide inside their coat closets and elsewhere for protection?

This footage especially

Generations of Americans took their kids on tours of the Capitol. What do you say about a tribe of people smearing feces on the walls of those same offices?

How do you respond to this tribe’s construction of a medieval gallows and rope from which to hang the sitting Vice President of their own political party because he would not turn his back on every citizen who voted in the 2020 presidential election and not ratify duly counted votes submitted by each of the states? 

Moreover, how can anyone respect their tribal leader, who represented everything they were standing for simply by sitting back and letting their violence and mass hysteria continue, and allowing the pleas for help from the broad swath of citizens they threatened, citizens he was elected to also represent, go unanswered, all the while watching it play out on television and by every account salivating at the pandemonium he presumed would allow him to illegally stay in office?

I’m out of breath!

How does anyone of any American tribe root for an illogical, 18th century temper tantrum as the answer to an imagined 21st century dispute fueled by 19th and 20th century resentments?

Hell, if I know. 

I want to reason with other tribes, come to some sort of consensus and build our society up as best we can.  I don’t seek their approval, merely our coexistence based on the rules and a shared, rational reality.

I wish I could say the same of them based on what I saw in the Jan 6th TV finale – and see elsewhere.

Forever true

The latter extends to the reaction of Alex Jones, the alt right shock jock and snake oil pitchman who has spent years spreading lies that the deaths of elementary school children at the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary massacre was staged by actors.  Mr. Jones was ordered to pay almost $1 billion in damages to their surviving families this week and, as the verdict was being read, was broadcasting his reactions live, laughing and mocking these parents and survivors as he solicited his listeners to buy more of his fake potions so he could continue his legal appeals.

It also extends to far right conspiracy theorist Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), as he faced his opponent for re-election, Wisconsin Lieutenant Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Black man, in a televised debate.

Asked to say something positive about his opponent, Sen. Johnson noted that he appreciates that Barnes had loving parents, a school teacher, father who worked third shift, admitting he had good upbringing.  Before pausing and quickly adding: I guess what puzzles me about that is with that upbringing, why has he turned against America?

This

Of course, the week prior Sen. Johnson, who is now ahead in the polls, was on tape telling a group of several thousand supporters on the campaign trail that Democrats don’t particularly like this country moments after lamenting over all the anger and division in the country.l

Talk about adding fuel to the fire.

Well, Full Confession:

I may be a snide, partisan and only sometime stylishly dressed Democrat who has spent most of his life in and around show business, but the one thing you can’t say about me is that I am not a thoughtful listener who doesn’t reason things out logically or someone who doesn’t like engaging with both sides of a debate.

But where does that get you?  

Nowhere… fast

What do you do when you are faced with tribes who operate on a set of alternate facts as they riot and lie and put their virtual hands over their ears in order to get their way at all costs?

One thing you can do is go to the head of the snake and subpoena their tribal leader to testify under oath about what is true.  Treat him no differently than any other member of any American tribe if and/or when it is proven that he or they have committed crimes, or even lied under oath to those tasked with carrying out the law.

One can dream

Sure, that’s one alternative.  And the path the bi-partisan members of the Jan. 6th committee have chosen to take.

But there is another. 

Grab some old Angela Lansbury recordings and remember that in a civilized society there are still peak moments of pleasure to be had.

Even if the majority of them seem rooted in the past. 

Angela Lansbury – “Beauty and the Beast”

We Alone Can’t Fix This

I spent the last several weeks reading all 500 plus pages of the #1 NY Times bestseller, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by the extremely thorough Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker.

The book is alternately fascinating, disturbing, infuriating, disorienting, dull, sick, perplexing, darkly humorous, scary and long. 

At times I wished it were a little less even-handed and journalistically proper.  But when you write something so exhaustive on a subject and subject matter such as this I suppose the true gangsta move is keeping your reportorial cool.

This is the energy I bring to writing about Trump

It brought back how I felt watching David Lynch’s very straightforward 1999 film, the very aptly titled A Straight Story. 

Why would the creator of cutting edge classics such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, and the director of such oddly entertaining works as Lost Highway and Wild at Heart, make a G-rated movie about the true story of an old man who drives his lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his sick brother?

Well, as Lynch himself explained to us (Note:  Okay, me) at the time, it was for that very reason.  By just sticking to a straight narrative of facts, it actually was his most daring, his most experimental film.

Believe it!

In that same way, there was no other course for Leonnig and Rucker to take in chronicling Trump’s last 12 months in office and have it land in any more of a meaningful fashion.

After all, how do you even begin to get any more twisted and salacious than Trump himself? 

And what would be the point in trying? 

This brings to mind the response I received, in various forms, from EVERY ONE OF THE SEVERAL DOZEN PEOPLE I told I was reading this book over this period time.

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?

This is an approximation of what they looked like

Of course, not everyone said it exactly that way.  Some just gave me a look, or silently nodded their heads, or explained they couldn’t because they lived it, or apologized they wouldn’t because it was too upsetting and their mental health was already precarious, or responded in person or on the phone with the kind of thick stony silence that tells you the person you’re speaking with has ZERO interest in pursuing this discussion or subject any further (you can hear editor Holly’s reaction on our newest podcast).

In other words, Chairy, BACK OFF!

And then this happened…

Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from sometimes throwing a few tidbits in.

As Stefon might say, this book and that year had everything –

a. A pandemic the Leader of the Free World ignored, downplayed and lied about.

b. A litany of dictatorial edicts spewed by the POTUS himself to send the military out into the streets to take over cities and ARREST (Note: Or worse) protestors that his own military leaders ignored and refused to carry out.

c. A ton of cursing, blame gaming of others and dangerous lies and/or conspiracy theories launched from the bully pulpit and via social media from the resolute desk in the Oval Office all in service of one single cause – his 2020 re-election.

AND

THERE’S MORE??

d. An actual planned mob of many THOUSANDS that #45 personally spurred on in a prepared, fiery speech on Jan. 6 that caused said group to violently attack and rampage though the U.S. Capitol Building, kill and maim a bunch of policemen, as well as hunt and threaten to hang the sitting vice-president before he could actually ratify the Electoral College results that would declare Joe Biden the new POTUS and thus brand Trump now and forever the official LOSER of the 2020 race.

Oh right

No amount of arm twisting, phone yelling, or even frantic yet calm talks from first daughter Ivanka (Note: Referred to by one advisor as a stable pony, as in when the racehorse gets too agitated, you bring in the stable pony to calm him down) would ever get Trump to tell his supporters they were doing ANYTHING wrong. Even as they threatened lives and destroyed objects that had stood the test of time over SEVERAL CENTURIES in the Capitol and through dozens of other presidencies.

In fact, the most he would ever do was tell them to go home while simultaneously reminding them we love you.

Oh, and the other thing he NEVER DID, as the book details, was to call a single Senator, Congressperson, Aide or even Vice President to inquire if they were okay.  Not on that day and, as far as we know, not to this day.

Is this insulting to Thelma and Louise? #sorryCallieKhouri

Of course, none of this is shocking at this point, even as it remains scary and disheartening.  Worse is that, according to the book, Trump not only knew about the virulency of COVID-19 back in Jan. 2020 but totally bungled a phone call at the time to China President Xi Jinping when he attempted to get representatives of the US medical community into China in order to examine, study or in some way help or contain or accrue information to contain and/or treat Covid-19.

Afraid to jeopardize a trade agreement between the two countries that he thought would win him economic points from his supporters, Trump soft-balled his ask to the point where the head of Communist China simply avoided and/or refused to allow anyone from the US medical establishment into his country.  Then he very calmly ended the call.

Missing a comma, but still true

And when the virus raged on for months and months in the first half of 2020, infecting and killing tens of thousands, the book chronicles how not only Trump but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as well as Larry Kudlow, his National Economic Council advisor, refused to the very bitter end to take the obvious steps to close the economy that everyone else in the Trump administration was demanding.

Still, none of this is even quite as surprising as who Loennig and Rucker position as one of the unlikeliest of heroes of the administration – Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Previously we all knew Milley as that military guy in fatigues who followed POTUS through the street to that Church where Trump held the Bible upside down in some sort of victory over citizen protestors.

Cue world’s longest eyeroll

That was because right before, under Trump’s orders, the National Guard had marched onto the DC streets and used tear gas and pepper spray to clear a path for him and wipe away any traces of the Black Lives Matter protestors that had peacefully demonstrated for several days so he could have a photo op. 

Old history, right?  Except what we didn’t know is that Milley, who felt “used” and publicly apologized some days later in a video for that appearance, then began a full out, shadow campaign to make sure #45 would never again use the military to further his personal political agenda… or worse.

According to the book, from that day forward Milley regularly shot down Trump’s requests for firepower in the streets; at one point told Trump’s ultra right wing chief speechwriter Stephen Miller to shut the f—k up; and enlisted as many present and former cabinet officers and military men as he could to keep the country from imploding.  Or exploding.

Everything was fine

When the events of Jan. 6 happened, it was Milley who had to strong arm the slow-moving acting Defense Secretary and finally order troops to save the Capitol building.  And when his orders weren’t immediately carried out, it took Vice President Pence’s demands for reinforcements to finally cause the powers-that-be to act.

But the one person who never requested any troops, military or otherwise, to defend the Capitol building was Trump.  In a blistering recounting of Insurrection Day, the book chronicles POTUS’ primary post-speech activity to be watching it all unspool live on TV in sheer awe.

What particularly irked a military guy like Milley, who has advanced degrees from both Columbia and Princeton, was seeing right wing fascist groups like The Proud Boys, as well as other Trump MAGA supporters, many of whom shouted racial epithets and were armed with military style weapons, so swiftly and threateningly move into the sacred halls of government without seemingly missing a beat.

Never Forget… really

Several weeks later, after it was all through and it was his responsibility to plan and maintain an ironclad safe and secure inauguration site for Joe Biden, he thus didn’t hesitate to make the same analogy myself and many of my more mouthy, Trump-loathing friends dared to speak back in 2016 the moment it became apparent that Trump et al would actually rule the presidency, the White House and the rest of us along with it for an entire four years.

HITLER.

Yeah, I said it.  It’s been our POV from the beginning and it still is.  It doesn’t have to be yours or those close to you.  But just know that leading up to Inauguration Day 2021, it also began to be the POV of the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. 

And it still is.

Speaking to dozens of military and law enforcement leaders at a large gymnasium as they planned for the ceremony to swear in #46, Milley noted that thousands of Trump supporters were already organizing via social media a return to D.C. for a week of siege that would culminate in the disruption of Biden’s inauguration.  And, he wanted them to be ready.

Here’s the deal, guys.  These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys.  These are the same people we fought in World War II.  Everyone in this room, whether you’re a cop or whether you’re a soldier, we’re going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power.  We’re going to put a ring of steal around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.

Yikes

And they didn’t.

And Milley still chairs the Joint Chiefs.

And Trump’s out of office.

For now.

The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again”